Ever been in a great conversation where hours seem to pass like seconds?
Been a part of a team where everyone is in sync and you can predict each other’s movements?
Had a creative brainstorming session at work where that felt like creative wildfire?
Played in a band where everyone falls into a groove together?
You guessed it – That’s group flow.
Group flow is when a team of people all experience an “in the zone effect”, together, as a result of working collaboratively with each other. A group of individuals all in the zone, together, at the same exact time.
More likely than not, behind every championship sports team we see group flow.
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots coming back to beat the Falcons in the Super Bowl in the 4th Quarter? Group flow.
Golden State Warriors when they start raining threes and can’t miss? Group flow.
This year’s Toronto Raptors and Kawhi Leonard beating the odds and dominating the warriors? Yep – group flow!
We can see it. We can feel it. It looks like the team is harmonized and on a rhythm together. They are in a groove and can predict each others movements. It’s a beautiful thing to witness.
And the best part about group flow?
Research conducted by Mihaly Csikszenmihalyi and Keith Sawyer found that group flow is the easiest type of flow to enter into (as simple as a good conversation), it feels better, and it makes people more productive as well!
As I discussed in the Neurochemistry of Flow, in flow states we see the holy grail of feel good neurochemicals – dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, anandamide, and endorphins.
In group flow we see ALL of these same chemicals PLUS Oxytocin, widely known as the “love” chemical or bonding chemical that is released when people hug, kiss, have sex, or merely create a sense of mutual trust.
Let’s break down this neurochemistry for a second to give a clearer picture –
Norepinephrine + Dopamine = Romantic Love
Endorphins = Maternal Bonding
Serotonin = Social Security
Anandamide = Openness to Experience/Others
Oxytocin = Trust
So not only is group flow easier to enter, but it FEELS BETTER TOO!!!
It gets better from here though as well – Sawyer also found that group flow sends performance through the roof – “In a study of more than 300 professionals at a strategy consulting firm, a government agency, and a petrochemical company, the people who participated in group flow were the highest performers.”
Getting into group flow has a ripple effect into individual performance. The better you can collaborate and flow with others, the better you will perform on your own.
But it gets better from here!
Similarly to individual flow – Group flow is also hackable and we can reliably replicate it – we can reverse engineer it by understanding the triggers that lead to group flow.
What are these triggers? There’s about 10 of them in all, let’s dive into them all one by one.
Triggers of Group Flow
Similarly to regular flow, the first three triggers of group flow are also found in regular flow. These three triggers are 1) serious concentration (flow follows focus), 2) shared clear goals, and 3) good communication (i.e., lots of immediate feedback).
Two more – equal participation and risk, are also pretty self evident given what we already know about flow states.
So the first five have a lot of common overlap with regular flow – but the next five require a bit more examination.
First we have Familiarity – AKA the group knows each other and the individual habits and nuances of each person. There might be a common shared language or slang, mannerisms, similar preferences, etc. The group has a baseline familiarity that allows them to skip over the getting to know each other phase and dive immediately into the work.
Next we have Blending Egos – Building off of equal participation, people have the ability to put their individual interests aside for the betterment of the group. No one is hogging the spotlight and people are working inter-dependently with each other to highlight their unique strengths.
Then there’s Sense of Control – Rather than reacting to external stimuli, the group feels that it knows what it has to do and can execute on it effectively. It’s like a merging of clear goals and a collective group challenge to skills equation. It’s not too hard, not too easy, and the group feels that they know what they need to do and have the skills to get it done.
Close listening, the next group flow trigger, is self explanatory. Being present with the conversation. Immersed in the dialogue that is happening in the here and now. In order to create beautiful things, everyone must be listening to everyone and focused on the present task. This means that if you’re checking your cell phone in a meeting, you’re blocking flow from happening. Stop it and surrender to flow.
The last group flow trigger – Always Say Yes – Means that conversations should always be constructive rather than confrontational. Adding information to each other instead of arguing with each other. Saying “Yes – AND….” Rather than No or but”. Resistance and confrontation can stop the flow dead in it’s tracks because it can kill momentum. The key focus is to continue to build momentum instead of adding friction which slows things down.
Now – do we need ALL of these triggers at once to induce group flow? Not necessarily. The more you have the more it helps, but you can definitely create group flow moments with only one or a handful of these present.
You can also use many of the individual flow triggers such as novelty or a visually stimulating environment to help you get there as well!
Like I mentioned earlier, Group flow is the easiest to get into of all flow states, and all it takes is a good conversation with someone to get there.
But like all things, this isn’t an exact science, but rather a framework that helps us to understand and piece things together. A tool kit that helps us to reverse engineer flow states.
And again like all things – the implementation and integration is the hardest part. Although we might understand these triggers, implementing them is an entirely different battle.
Want to learn how to implement Group Flow in the workplace, with your band, or with your sports team? Join my Free Course Foundations of Flow. In it I teach you all of the methods to get into flow on command, for yourself and for your team!
Feel like you can do it on your own? More power to you! Get the group together and start practicing and implementing what you can!
Either way, keep flowing, keep experimenting, and keep doing what you can to get the most flow possible out of your daily life 🙂
Also published on Medium.